Polk County officials staying busy with WEG preparation

Polk County Emergency Management Director Bobby Arledge carries a large binder with plans for the 2018 World Equestrian Games.

Bobby Arledge is rarely seen these days without a large binder in his hands.

Inside the hefty bound book that is a constant companion for Polk County’s Emergency Management Director are pages and pages devoted to plans for the various governmental agencies involved with the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games, the international competition set to take place at Tryon International Equestrian Center in September.

It is the first page in the binder, though, that serves as a guiding principle for Arledge as well as County Manager Marche Pittman and all Polk County employees. That initial entry contains a mission statement noting the importance for county officials of facilitating a safe and secure Games while also maintaining full services for Polk County residents.

“We have established an inner circle and an outer circle,” Arledge said. “The inner circle includes the Tryon Equestrian Center property and anything that has to do with the Games.

“The outer circle plan is structured around everything that goes on outside the venue in the county. Some of us are dealing with both sections, some are dealing with just what goes on in the county.”

To that end, Polk County officials have been in a constant state of planning since the official announcement in November 2016 that the Games, the largest international equestrian event outside of the Olympics, would be held at TIEC. More than 500,000 visitors are expected to attend the event over a 13-day period in September, making it the largest sporting event in state history.

With 20,000 to 40,000 guests expected per day during the Games, county officials are coordinating state and federal resources in seven areas – facility and emergency management, fire/rescue, EMS, law enforcement, health and human services, communications and public works. Part of that effort includes a monthly meeting with a wide range of agencies that includes, among others:

* Department of Homeland Security

* Federal Bureau of Investigation

* North Carolina Emergency Management (which has placed a staff member in Polk County three days a week)

* North Carolina Highway Patrol

* State Bureau of Investigation

* American Red Cross

* North Carolina Department of Transportation

* National Weather Service

* North Carolina State Fire Marshal’s Office

There are also regular meetings being held around those seven key areas led by county officials that will be managing state and federal personnel during the Games. Those resources will be utilized to help make certain that Polk County residents enjoy the same level of services as usual.

“We have reached out to that outer circle – Fire, EMS, DOT, Highway Patrol – and asked for resources and what we need to serve the outer circle during the event,” Pittman said. “We have gotten the resources we need to begin planning. It’s been a very collaborative effort so far. Everybody is working together well.

“The Sheriff’s Department, EMS, the fire departments, will all continue to serve the needs of the local community. Anything we need during the Games for serving there will come from those regional assets.”

Among the current items of focus for county officials is working with TIEC and state officials on transportation plans around the Games. One visible sign of that effort is NCDOT construction in progress at the I-26/U.S. 74 interchange in Columbus. That project will provide direct access from I-26 westbound to U.S. 74 eastbound and from U.S. 74 westbound to I-26 eastbound.

“One major item now is working with NCDOT, the Highway Patrol and TIEC on the transportation plan,” Arledge said. “We are identifying some parking areas and are working on getting the transpotation companies involved in planning that.”

Given the scale of the management effort, county officials and staff will be conducting regular tabletop exercises, simulating expected conditions during the Games to test planned responses.

“Each individual group will start next month holding small exercises in their groups leading up to a big exercise,” Arledge said. “We’ll be doing tabletop exercises all the way up to August and September to make certain everything works right.”